A few weeks ago Kathy and I took a cruise to Alaska. Not only was it our first trip to the 49th state, but it was also our first cruise. To be honest, we’re not “cruise people”, but felt it was the best way to see the Inside Passage and southeastern Alaska. Our primary goals were seeing Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm, as well as hiking through the Denver Valley along the White Pass & Yukon Rail Route. In short, we were there to see the scenery - not for the amenities of a cruise.
After doing quite a bit of research in trying to decide which cruise line to take, and what time of year to take our trip, we chose to go with Holland America in early June. We liked Holland America because it visited both Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm, and if I remember correctly, was the only cruise line to do so. Some of the other lines visit Icy Straight, Mendenhall Glacier or Sitka as part of their itinerary. We chose to sail in early June because it tends to have some of the best weather in terms of the least amount of rain. Although the forecast looked rather bleak for almost every day of our trip, we saw very little rain during our one-week cruise. Early June is also a good time if you're looking to avoid mosquitoes, which can be bothersome according to some of the reports I read. Our timing worked out perfectly. The only time mosquitoes gave us any problems was while we were standing on the dock in Skagway, other than that, they were a complete non-issue.
A couple of hours after boarding, all passengers had to take part in a mandatory evacuation drill before we could set sail. Once this was completed, things became more normal and we began settling into our ship-life groove. I didn’t even realize we were moving until I walked to the back deck and saw the wake trailing behind the boat. As we cruised between the mainland and Vancouver Island (which is 290 miles in length) that first day, sailing was really smooth. However, on the second day, we sailed through open seas for several hours before reaching the Inside Passage. To make matters worse, a rain system with fairly high winds passed over us during this portion of the trip. According to the cruise log the wind was clocked at 33 knots, or 38 MPH, resulting in some relatively rough seas. Though nothing horrible, both Kathy and I did feet a little woozy, especially when we went into the confines of our tiny bathroom. To help remedy the situation we tried to spend as much time as possible outside where the fresh air - though damp and cold - seemed to do the trick.
For the most part, the first two days were fairly uneventful. Other than a few whale and porpoise sightings, and some far off mountains, we really didn’t see much.
That all changed once we reached the meat of our trip. Over the next three days we enjoyed outstanding weather and scenery.
The downside to the dining experience was dealing with the constant crowds, especially during breakfast and lunch at the Lido Restaurant, where the food is served buffet style. It was hard to have a relaxing experience, not to mention the difficulty in finding an open table to sit at. For dinner we chose to dine in the main dining room, which is a sit-down, full service experience.
On-board entertainment was pretty good as well. On nights when it was too cold or wet to sit outside, we watched B.B. King's All-Stars at the B.B. King's Blues Club. I was really looking forward to hearing some good blues, but discovered the band played mostly Motown. Oh well. The band was still very talented; especially the female vocalist who I thought could be a national talent. We also went to the piano bar one night, which I thought was a lot of fun. Since the pianist mentioned that he liked Elton John, I jokingly requested Funeral for a Friend, which I was sure he would scoff at. Not only did he know the song, and not only did he play it, but he did one whale of a job on it – I was thoroughly impressed!
Over the next several days I will be posting photos and reports from our excursions into Tracy Arm, Glacier Bay National Park, Misty Fjords National Monument, as well as our hike through Denver Valley just north of Skagway. Below are a few more random photos from our cruise.
Float plane takes off from the Juneau airport at sunset:
Typical scene from Vancouver Island:
On Day 5 after visiting Glacier Bay, instead of sailing through Icy Straight, we instead hung a right and sailed past the Brady Icefield and Brady Glacier, with the Fairweather Mountains in the background:
Sunset along Vancouver Island:
For a detailed tour of the boat you can watch this short video:
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